Sketch: Henry Bolton may be UKIP's best hope
Sketch: Holed up in a hotel and besieged by the media, UKIP leader Henry Bolton plotted a route back to the top
Image credit: Iain Green
With hindsight, it was probably inevitable that UKIP would end up demanding independence from itself eventually. When you think about it, it’s really the logical conclusion given the events up until now. With the fight to quit the EU apparently secured, it makes sense that members would look for the next thing to quit. It’s just that, in this case, it happens to be their own party.
For anyone who hasn’t followed the political panic attack that constitutes the UKIP leadership up until now – well, congratulations. It was probably the right choice.
From the moment that Henry Bolton arrived at the helm, it was tempting to wonder if it was worth just sitting this one out and waiting for the next leader.
In the end, he lasted about six months before being ‘invited’ to resign by his party’s National Executive Committee, after his partner was found to have sent a series of racist messages about actress Meghan Markle.
Who could have predicted that having a partner who has been found to have sent a bunch of viciously racist messages about a future member of the Royal Family would hurt his career?
Unlike other UKIP politicians, Bolton wasn’t alleged to have physically assaulted anyone. He didn’t claim a link between gay people and flooding. He didn’t accuse a “homosexual donkey” of attempting to rape his horse. And, perhaps most significantly, he isn’t David Coburn.
No, Bolton might genuinely be the best option, assuming they can’t convince that homosexual donkey to take over. Certainly that’s how Bolton himself appeared to view the matter, as he stepped out of his besieged hotel to defend his position from its carpark.
Arriving somewhat hesitantly – he had to be coaxed in by the media after initially attempting to deliver his statement 20 feet from the microphone – he started off by repeating the word “sorry” to himself over and over.
After that things picked up. Speaking with the clipped voice of a local head of police force, thrown into the national media spotlight to explain their bungled attempts to catch an escaped zoo animal, he announced: “I shall respect the next steps in the constitutional process and will therefore not be resigning as party leader. I repeat, I will not be resigning.”
The problem, he explained, was the NEC, which had tried to sack him, despite him advising it not to. “The NEC, as presently constituted, is unfit for purpose and has severely handicapped the party’s progress for some years… To that end, during the coming weeks, I will be proposing a new party constitution, with a newly constituted and reformed National Executive Committee.”
Rewrite the constitution so he doesn’t have to leave. It was bold. It was daring. It was the sort of thing a man who has spent days trapped in a low-budget hotel would imagine to be a smart move. So how would he do it? “In a single phrase,” he explained, “it’s time to ‘Drain the Swamp’.”
Yes, that’s right, he ended a statement aimed at presenting himself as a stable leader by quoting Donald Trump.
It looked bad. As Neil Hamilton put it: “He’s made himself into a ludicrous figure by his own poor judgement and he should get out of the way and allow us to get on with rebuilding the party.”
Neil Hamilton thinks he looks ludicrous. A man who once danced inside a perspex cage in front of a studio audience to Kool and the Gang’s ‘Get Down on It’, while Johnny Vegas and a member of the public poured fish all over his head. The George Galloway of English Euroscepticism.
Imagine that man calling your credibility into question. And so it must have provided some relief when Nigel Farage waded into the debate – or the swamp? – to lend Bolton his backing.
“I’m not saying I support Henry Bolton,” he began. Oh god. Who does? Has anyone asked Henry Bolton if he supports Henry Bolton? Because they maybe should.
The key, Farage argued, was for Bolton to start making “big political arguments”, though to be honest, it seemed a very high bar. At this stage, any political argument would do. In fact, anything that makes him look less ludicrous than Neil Hamilton would be a win.
And who knows why he wants to stay. Probably the weirdest part of this whole story is that Henry Bolton has reportedly been doing the job without pay, which means he considers leading UKIP to be either important voluntary work, or possibly some sort of highly rewarding hobby. Some people like reading. Others like music. Henry Bolton, we can only assume, enjoys spending his time trapped in east English hotels while desperately refuting allegations of racism.
But still, pressure continued to build, with the UKIP deputy leader, assistant deputy leader, local government, education, trade and immigration spokespeople all quitting in response to his statement.
After that, somewhere between eight and ten other senior figures also quit, though no one seemed exactly sure how many – apparently because, like in some sort of 1970s anarcho-collectivist squat, no one is ever completely sure who is residing within UKIP at any one time.
Yet he hangs on, and what will be his focus? According to Bolton, back in that lonely carpark, it will be “mobilising our efforts to ensure the government delivers a truly independent United Kingdom when we leave the European Union”. Indeed, and maybe it will. Whether he’ll be independent of UKIP by then, however, remains to be seen.
An amendment by Labour MP Hillary Benn that might have limited the scale of the loss has been withdrawn
The SNP rank and file are growing restless, yet the party has been suffering from torpor, says Kenny MacAskill
Craig Hoy, the founding Editor of Holyrood Magazine, looks back on the early days of devolution
In a last-ditch bid to drum up support for her agreement, the Prime Minister will say Parliament has a "duty to implement the result of the referendum"